After arriving in early January, Bear Hughes is closer to feeling 100 per cent comfortable with his new teammates and coaches on the Fargo Force.
That comfort factor will help Hughes be the dominant player he wants to be.
“I put myself to high standards,” says Hughes, selected by the Washington Capitals in the fifth round of last summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
The former Spokane Brave joined the U.S. Hockey League organization to get playing after it was unknown whether the Spokane Chiefs and the Western Hockey League would have a season.
In a league which he says is difficult to score, Hughes had his struggles, but part of that had to do with confidence and feeling timid as he had not played a game since last March. The biggest adjustment the Post Falls, ID native had to make was moving away from home for the first time. He misses his family, but thankfully, he lives with a great billet family in North Dakota and his teammates and coaches are great.
Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux says he expected Hughes to take 10 to 15 games to settle in and get up to speed with the team and league.
“Bear is currently playing his best hockey and we only see it improving,” says Lamoureaux. “He’s playing a big role with our team five-on-five, as well as playing a large role on our power-play and penalty-kill units. He’s playing fast and physically. His hard work is starting to pay off and he is getting rewarded.”
“I fit in well and it’s a good team,” says Hughes, who likes the group he plays with and is focused on trying to win a Clark Cup. “I am enjoying it a lot. It’s been a good experience for me so far.”
Unfamiliar with the USHL prior to coming to Fargo, Hughes is noticing the depth that teams have. Every line on teams are good, but a factor is that some organizations have players from
National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 programs. They are not playing because of the pandemic and the Force has three players from the NCAA.
As the points weren’t coming for Hughes, he also experienced somes struggles in the small details of his game that he is normally on top of. He is seeing gradual improvement and getting into a rhythm. He also has points in six of his last seven games, giving him 13 points in 19 games. With fewer chances in games, Hughes has adjusted and tries to finish the opportunities that come. He says experiencing that has been good.
One area he has been focused on getting better with is winning faceoffs, which he’s learned players can make a living from being strong in the dot.
“Ryan O’Reilly is known for being strong on faceoffs,” says Hughes. “I’m figuring out little tricks here and there and it’s a skill that takes time to get better at.”
Lamoureux says Hughes ability to adapt and impact the game up and down the lineup is very valuable. As a coach, he can play in every situation. Since he’s settled in and has adjusted to the speed and new team, he is executing offensively.
“Bear has a tremendous amount of upside,” says Lamoureaux. “Bear provides a humble veteran presence to our group. He is a soft-spoken young man, however, he is confident and well thought out. When he speaks, his teammates listen.”